Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The drought, the government, NREGA, RWH ...

Annasamy Anna tells me of the seven year drought of his youth, sixty years ago, when they used to line up in the government gruel centres daily for jowar gruel. But there was no drinking water problem through the drought, as some wells still had water. Trees did not dry and die as there was some residual dampness in the soil. Drought only meant no rains, and hence no cropping. 

In today's drought there is no drinking water for man or cattle. The bores have sucked the ground bone dry, and there is not a particle of moisture, and the trees have all dried.  There is no livelihood as lands lie fallow, and cows are sold in distress sales. This was after 30 years of borewell usage in upland areas of Rayalseema took the groundwater level from 50 feet to 1000 feet.  There are no livlihoods.

Dec 2014
We have been fortunate to have had as friends some of the most committed IAS officers.  TR Raghunandan helped restart NREGA works that had got held up.  And  Varalu, frail and small, and Anand anna, over 60, and twelve others were all digging the dry tank bed as part of the NREGA works. Anandanna told me that the soil was very hard. But they were grateful for the chance to work and earn something in this severe drought.  

Sowmya, the Director Social Audit, after we were introduced to her thro’ TR Raghunandan, came and spent 2 days in the village looking at the situation and assessing initiatives. We walked the length of the panchayat,  to see what water harvesting could be further done and meaningful plans were chalked out.

Discussions were initiated on what needed to be done to collectively control groundwater usage.  Borewell sealing was discussed. This is a very sensitive topic, as the farmer’s hope hangs on this   thin thread of hope - the borewell that  he has sold his soul to sink and deepen, and which has led to this disappeared groundwater. To make him not use it when water does appear again will need clear incentives and safety nets.

 The ayacut of the tank where paddy and sugarcane used to sway to the breeze, and work used to go on from dawn to dusk. It is all barren now, and even the interspersed coconut trees have died. Possibilities were discussed.

Climate change has set in, and the lashing rains of fifteen years ago is a past story. people are seeing that even the existing RWH structures are not filling up. RWH, without collective control on groundwater use is not valid.
People are suggesting plastic lines water ponds in their fields, rather than structures that recharge groundwater so that their cattle may at least have some water through the summer.

Jan 2015

… With backs to the wall, the farmers are all coming together for meetings and plans. Anchored by Uma and Nagesh and Krisnamurthy and others, regular discussions are widening to include collective control of water usage - something that would have been unthinkable some years ago

On a shoestring budget they managed, they all went to Ralegaon Siddhi, Hiware Bazar, and other successful water interventions in that area. And have realized that there are possibilities..

This meeting was in Uma and Naren's house where people from the caste village and Dalitwada came together for the sccreening of Hiwre Bazar, and for discussions . 

Feb 2015
…   Due to the intervention of the Social Audit Director who came with her team and spent time in the village, the government NREGA works to provide labour for the people got systemitised.   But because the land is so hard in the drought, the pits they are able to dig are small, and so the payments also are very small. Still they have been going for those works since they got sanctioned.   

… Nadupaiya, with his limping foot, Eashwaramma with her hurt leg, Varalu with her fraility and every other person is in the tank digging soil and throwing it into the truck for deepening the tank. It is very hard work as the soil is very hard. But it is work. And they are grateful.
As Eashwaramma lifted a huge mud pellet to throw into the truck it slipped and fell on her chest. She had to drop out of the work, and has been spending more than she earned in going to the local bone setter at Kallur to apply the medicine and bandage. This is the reality - living on the absolute brink ...
Then there were some rains which softened the soil, and so people are able to dig more and earn a little more money each day. The NREGA audit team went to the village, and had detailed discussions with the people on costing and rules. People are hopeful now that there will be some regular work. All people want is a chance to work and earn.

July 2015

We all had long discussions, and people want work desperately. Many have exhausted the NREGA 100 days, and anyway the ground is so hard now that few are anymore able to do crowbar work. When our imagination fails, theirs also fails. One of the two functioning bores across the whole panchayat has failed, and water is being transported at 15 pots per family on alternate days. The cows are thirsty, and there is no grass. People who can afford have bought groundnut leaf from Kalahasti at 9000/- per tractor. That will keep body and soul together for two cows at home for 6 months with difficulty. The economics will not work out, but at least families which have only this as an asset will not lose this also. There are twenty cow owning families in the harijan hamlet of the panchayat, and totally fifty cows.

Work, and some way to ensure fodder for the cows is priority. The drought is very real - and killing.

August 2015

Discussions with the collector helped to focus on the government schemes possible. There is very little. Some feed is sanctioned for the pregnant cows and calves upto 6 months. Too little, too late, when all cows are starved, and going to be marched to slaughter.

The owner of the one functioning bore in the panchayat is refusing to sell water to the tanker as his trees are dying. The mandal officers forced him onto the discussion table.

The district is not mentioned as drought affected in government records !!

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